Lexington, Ky. – Hovering upon the cusp of HCAC supremacy for the past three years, the Transylvania women's basketball team enters the 2018-19 season this weekend looking to finally summit the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference standings for the first time in four seasons.
The Pioneers women's basketball squad tips off the season on Saturday, November 10 at the Clive M. Beck Center against nonconference opponent Wittenberg University as the Pioneers begin their journey towards a return to the NCAA Tournament.
They'll aim to do so with a once-youthful roster which has suddenly sprouted into a lineup full of veterans who are ready to write their own history.
Gone from the 2018 squad are three seniors, including the HCAC Player of the Year, forward Rachel Cox, who last year was the conference's leading scorer, shot-blocker, and the second-best three-point shooter by percentage, as well as a double-double machine.
"Rachel will be a challenging hole to fill and we hope to do that through committee," said Juli Fulks, Transylvania women's basketball head coach, who enters her fifth year at the helm in Lexington. "She provided consistent rebounding while being able to stretch the defense to the three-point line and open up the offense."
While the Pioneers will seek to rebound from the graduation of their D3Hoops.com Great Lakes All-Region Second-Teamer, the returning committee offers continuity and plenty of firepower.
Transylvania returns four of five projected starters to its lineup for 2018-19, including three players who earned All-HCAC recognition last season. Transylvania has inched close to the field of 64 over the last two seasons, but have come up short each time in the HCAC Championship game against Rose-Hulman, the two-time reigning tournament champions of the HCAC.
With the agony of a close loss serving as last season's final image, the Pioneers return to the court this week ready to prove themselves yet again.
"Our team was extremely disappointed in last year's finish which was very motivating to them in the offseason," commented Fulks. "They have put in extensive hours to improve their skills in the offseason and have entered this season with very clear goals."
The charge towards those goals will be led by a quartet of mainstays. Senior guard Celia Kline (Madeira, Ohio / Madeira HS) returns to the Pioneers for her final tour of duty. Two seasons removed from leading the HCAC in three-point field goals, the 2018 All-HCAC Honorable Mention guard enters this season as the team's third-leading returning scorer. Starting in all 27 of Transylvania's games last season, Kline serves as a seasoned anchor for the Pioneers, capable of running the offense and scoring at will.
Another one of Transylvania's five seniors on the 2018-19 squad primed for a powerful final season is dual guard Kristen Hayes (Berea, Ky. / Madison Southern HS). Another foundational piece of Transy's lineup this season, Hayes averaged nearly seven points and three rebounds per game last season while shooting 88 percent from the foul line and turning in an effective field-goal percentage of 44 percent.
Junior guard Ashton Woodard (Mt. Sterling, Ky. / Menifee County HS) started in 24 of Transylvania's 27 games last season and was one of three double-digit scorers for the Pioneers, averaging 10.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and a team-high 2.6 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the floor. Another HCAC Honorable Mention winner in 2018, Woodard has made the most of her trips to the free-throw line in 2018, hitting 60 of 70 shots (86 percent).
The Pioneers figure to get a big lift from its other returning starter, junior forward Shelby Boyle (Morgantown, W. Va. / Morgantown HS). The leading returning scorer and 2018 All-HCAC Second Team selection, Boyle brings all-around talent to the Pioneers. The forward averaged 11.8 ppg, a team-high 8.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, and led the Pioneers in steals.
Transylvania also possesses a healthy dose of depth to augment their veteran cadre. Sophomore guard Zenoviah Walker (Danville, Ky. / Danville HS) made an instant impact as a freshman, averaging 5.4 ppg and rebounding nearly three rebounds per game. Walker showed her ability to both run offense while serving as a tenacious one-on-one defender. The Pioneers have added three newcomers to their roster as well for this season: sophomore forward Calynn Jackson (Indianapolis, Ind. / Emmerich Manual HS), freshman center Grace Bringard (Louisville, Ky. / Assumption HS), and freshman guard Grace Shope (Leesburg, Ohio / Fairfield HS).
Relying on a healthy amount of wing players and a balance of youth and experience, the Pioneers possess a compelling variety of lineup permutations they can deploy for different situations. "We matured as a team last year and have a group who can effectively flex between several offenses and defenses making this a very versatile group," Fulks said.
Transylvania has also witnessed an expansion in its coaching staff for 2018-19 as Fulks welcomes former Morehead State University star Natalie Greenwell Sweeney to her staff as an assistant coach, while assistant Matt Trumble's role as an assistant has expanded this season as he returns for his second year with the Pioneers.
"Our coaching staff additions continue to give us more resources for our players both on and off the court," added Fulks. "Natalie has been at several programs, most recently Division II University of Illinois-Springfield, and is able to directly relate to our guards, while Matt's strength is his analytics and ability to look at basketball through a different lens."
The Pioneers have been projected for a second-place finish in the upcoming HCAC slate by the conference coaches' preseason poll to match their regular-season and conference tournament finish in conference play last season. Regardless of outside conjecture and its talent supply, the Pioneers' success will come down as much to the cerebral aspect of the game.
"Our success this year will be directly tied to basketball IQ in combination with our skill set," analyzed Fulks. "We have very high expectations in our mental approach to the games, and the ability to execute game plans for 40 minutes will matter."
Transylvania begins the nonconference portion of another ambitious schedule with its 2:00 p.m. tip-off against Wittenberg this Saturday in the season opener at the Beck Center. The Pioneers continue their November nonconference ledger with a trip to Fredericksburg, Virginia on the campus of Mary Washington University, located one hour southwest of the nation's capital to take on Johns Hopkins on Friday, November 16 before taking on either host school Mary Washington or William Peace University.
Following a November 24 matchup against Emory University, the Pioneers shift into HCAC conference play on Saturday, December 1 as they square off with Bluffton University in an early look at two of the top teams in the conference.
Tickets for all regular season home games this year at the Beck Center are $6 for adults, $4 for children aged 5 to 17, and free to children aged 4 and under as well as students, staff, and faculty of HCAC member schools who have a valid college ID card.
For more on Transylvania women's basketball, follow @TUWBX on Twitter